Every five years since 1999, on my mother’s birthday (July 2nd), I’ve been writing several newspaper articles that have helped to shed some light on my late father, Alphonse Lavernoich — one reason why I’ve been doing that is the fact that twenty-five years ago, on my mother’s fifty-seventh birthday in 1984, my father suffered a stroke that permanently crippled his left side. From there, the last decade of Father’s life was a struggle to not only cope with his illness, but also to go on with life — a fact that wasn’t lost on not only my family and relatives, but also everybody who was lucky enough to know Father, including the several generations of students who were both fortunate and lucky enough to have him as a history teacher at the Pearson School in Winsted, CT. (Granted, I’m writing this almost two weeks after my mother’s birthday — but then, I’ve been busy, including helping out Mother in the wake of her knee-replacement surgery back in January and her almost-three month stay in a local nursing home afterwards.)
I was born in Winsted, CT on May 11, 1965, almost a decade after my family moved to Connecticut in 1956. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned that my parents were born outside of Connecticut — in Father’s case, he was born in Berlin, NH, an industrial city in northern New England that’s been struggling to stay alive for decades (and still is, the last time I visited it a few years ago). Understanding and appreciating Father’s roots in Berlin is definitely one reason why I’ve always looked forward to visiting his relatives there over the past forty-five years — in fact, I’m damn sure that I first visited Berlin with the rest of my family at least a few months after my birth (though I could be wrong).
My father’s parents — my paternal grandparents — Joseph and Julia Lavernoich, came to both the United States and Berlin from their native Poland either in the late-19th Century or the early-20th Century. My father, who was born on April 14, 1925, was one of thirteen children that belonged to his family — Father’s other siblings included his brothers (and my uncles) Ben, Adam, Joseph, Edward (a.k.a. Sharkey), Lawrence, and Valerian (a.k.a. Bill) and sisters (and my aunts) Bernice, Mary, Millie, Della, Felicia (a.k.a. Pauline), and Irene (a.k.a. Bingo). Considering the fact that Father’s family was a familiar fixture in Berlin for decades, I’m still surprised how much weight their reputation continues to carry.
Father had a great relationship with his siblings during his lifetime — not perfect, but great enough in the sense that he loved them very much, perhaps even more so later on, when my family came up to Berlin to visit them at least several times every year over a period of fifty-five-plus years (and still counting). Even in the final years of Father’s life, we still managed to bring him up to Berlin to visit his brothers and sisters — it was, in many respects, a struggle to bring Father up to Berlin even as his health was failing; in retrospect, it was, in many respects, worth the effort, and certainly did wonders for not only my family’s morale, but also that of my paternal uncles and aunts.
Like other people of their generation, growing up during the years dominated by both the Great Depression and World War II wasn’t easy for Father’s family, as the world not only faced financial hardships, but also the growing threat of the Axis powers that were bent on conquest through political subversion and military aggression — while wondering if it would emerge from both crises intact. For Father’s family, the death of their patriarch in the early-1930’s was not only heartbreaking, but only added to their own struggles — a situation experienced by many families around the world. And yet, the difficulties that they faced in childhood only strengthed Father and his siblings’ resolve to not only find their own place in the world, but also to help — in their own way — the world around them. As they reached adulthood, Father and his brothers and sisters would do just that — and in some cases, exceed the expectations that helped to fuel their goals and ambitions. And Father and several of his brothers would become part of 20th Century history, when they fought in World War II (and in my Uncle Bill’s case, the Korean War during the early-1950’s) — and like other members of their generation, they did it to insure and preserve both the concept of democracy and the dream of a peaceful world permanently free of hatred and fear.
Some of the relationships between Father’s brothers and sisters over their lifetimes were far from perfect, due in part to differing views — especially in later years. But as I’ve come to realize, there’s no such thing as the perfect family, at least in the real world. And yet, Father’s family, in many respects, is among those who’ve fared better than other families who’ve been torn apart by tragedy and hard luck — and perhaps the main reason why the ethics and values that marked their lives have been passed to not only me and my other brothers, but also my cousins, nephews, and nieces.
Today, there are only three surviving members of Father’s family who grew up in Berlin, NH — Bingo, Bernice, and Della. The house that my father and his family grew up in, as well as the summer cabin in Milan, has since been sold in the past few years — thus severing a link between two generations. In the end, however, the real legacy that Father’s family has left behind are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have been and are still making their personal mark on the world — and who’ll no doubt inspire their children, grandchildren, etc. to do the same someday. It’s a legacy to be proud of — and far more important and precious than all the material wealth in the world.
July 13, 2009
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